The Bulls have positioned themselves to make a max bid on a 2010 superstar free agent in their prime. We all know this, and yet we also know that this plan is fraught with peril. What if the Bulls are unable to obtain such a player?
For the sake of this discussion, I view LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh as the primary targets on everyone's list. So if the Bulls can not get one of these players what is the fall back plan?
The first option is Amare Stoudemire. His offensive game would fit well with Rose, and if Noah bulks up enough to defend centers well then he'll be able to help cover Amare's defensive weaknesses. The problem with Amare is the price and injury risk. He'll likely demand a 20 million dollar per year deal and want to be the star. He's probably not worth remotely that money, but a team like the Knicks will pounce on him for the money after making promises to their fans.
For those disappointed that we missed the Carlos Boozer raffle drawing (this guy's not worth a sweepstakes folks), he'll be available next year looking to cash checks. Much like Stoudemire he's a talented guy who comes with great risk. He has questionable work ethic, attidude, and many feel that he milks injuries and won't play. His character is considered crap, and Utah has been off and on trying to unload him for much of the length of his deal despite him putting up performances that make him underpaid by his tangible basketball efforts. I'd love Boozer in a contract year, but I wouldn't trust him on a long term deal.
Joe Johnson is probably the next best available player. Personally, I'd rather have Ben Gordon next to Derrick Rose than Joe Johnson. Gordon's a better shooter and would create more space for Rose on the court than Johnson. Johnson's a better distributor, but he's more of an isolation player as well. Johnson once played a supporting role in Phoenix, but I don't know that he'd go back to that type of role and playing as 'the man' he's more disruptive than Gordon playing the same way. He'll also likely cost 15 million a year or so, and is old enough that he likely won't be worth his contract in the end years.
Any of the above guys could be a worth addition to the team, but there are huge red flags on the first two and not such a great fit with Johnson. If we get one, we'll likely have to win a bidding war that leaves us in a position of vastly overpaying a guy in an era with a declining salary cap. Just remember the fallout of our cap situation when we couldn't get Duncan Hill and McGrady years ago. We started throwing big money at everyone. These guys wouldn't be Mercer/Robinson (who weren't even remotely worth the thought of the money), but they were the Antonio Davis and Tim Thomas. Guys who you could tell right away were overrated relative to the money available and were hoping would turn us down even if we made a big offer.
So what comes next if you pass on these guys?
Yao Ming may be an intriguing possibility if he opts out, but how could you take a chance on his health? Will Yao even take a chance on his health to opt out? I'm hardly alone in suggesting the last few years that there's no way in hell I'd sign him to an extension because his body would never hold out. It appears more than ever that this is accurate, and yet because of the lack of big men in the league my guess is that Ming gets a pretty big contract even if his health isn't proven "just in case" he can come back. I just hope we're not the ones making that pledge.
Dirk Nowitski may opt out of his contract and be available, but he'll be 32. How much or long do you really want to commit to him? I think he still might be worth paying big money on a 3-4 year deal, but it depends how big the money and whether Dallas ponies up even more. It's hard to imagine winning a bidding war against the Mavericks and feeling good about the price you got the player at when the process is over.
More or less the same thing can be said of Paul Pierce if he opts out of his contract except that the Celtics are less likely to massively overpay him.
Kobe also could opt out, but he'll never leave the Lakers, if he's available you bid, but he won't really be available even if he's a free agent.
That leaves me with the desperation plan. LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay are two restricted free agents who might be available. Memphis seems like a team that isn't going to knock anyone's socks off in a bidding war, so Gay could probably be pried away. I'm not sure that he'd fit, but he'll at least be someone we could consider.
LaMarcus Aldridge seems like a lock to return to Portland. That is he seemed like one until the blazers balked on giving Brandon Roy a max contract for about a month. If Roy wasn't an automatic decision for them, then Aldridge can't even be close. Remember that if the salary cap falls, the max contract won't be nearly so big as it is right now and that Aldridge will be earning an early veteran max (25% of cap) rather than the later vet max (30% or 105% of present salary).
Many of the players listed above would come in on contracts that might average 20 million a year, while depending where the cap falls next year whereas Aldridge's max contract would only average about 14.7. Is it too much to pay Aldrdige? Yes. However, I might feel more comfortable with Aldridge at 14.7 than Boozer at the same price or vastly more. Aldridge is at least young, and seems to have gotten past his injuries.
If all of the above fails we're looking at Luis Scola, keeping Tyrus Thomas, solving our needs through the draft and saving our money for another day. That might actually end up being the most prudent path, but it will be tough to convince Bulls fans of that after throwing out the 2010 cap space plan as a reason for not coming to terms with Ben Gordon.